There is nothing like a warming bowl of soup to satisfy the soul. The Tuscan bean and vegetable soup, Ribollita, is just the right recipe.
It was a chilly, fall Sunday morning in the medieval city of Siena in Tuscany, Italy. Famed for its cuisine, art, cathedral and Il Palio horse race, Siena is an ancient and historic marvel. When you arrive you can hardly believe you are there. It’s the scene of storybooks, postcards and movie sets.
Exploring cobblestone alleyways, stopping at every turn to take photographs left us in need of a warm lunch.
A small unassuming restaurant close to our hotel looked like just the spot. How how could we resist a restaurant named for an Italian grandmother?
Seated at our small wooden table, we watched as the cozy dining room quickly filled with local families. Always a good sign.
You’ll find a hearty vegetable soup called Ribollita everywhere in Tuscany. In English, Ribollita means “reboiled”. It is a way for thrifty Tuscan cooks to use leftover vegetables and bread from the week. Vegetables, bread and Cannellini beans; sounds like the perfect lunch.
A steaming bowl of soup arrived, it’s thickness created from bread cubes that have melted in. Just top with a little fresh Parmesan cheese. With every bite I quickly learned why this was the famous soup of the region. Complete with a good glass of local Chianti wine, we had a warm and comforting lunch. We listened to the banter of Italian families around us, enjoying a good meal on a Sunday afternoon. I couldn’t wait to make it at home.
I’ve adapted her recipe to bring it closer to what I enjoyed in Italy. I added diced fennel and used less broth to make it thicker. Homemade turkey broth was in my freezer, but chicken broth works great. For vegetarians, use vegetable broth. I also found that I needed less bread, using just 2 cups of cracked wheat sourdough bread cubes. (Also for vegetarians, omit the pancetta).
For high quality dried Cannellini beans, order from Rancho Gordo in Napa Valley, my favorite heirloom bean supplier. Their Cannellini beans are fantastic, like big, plump pillows after cooking. You ‘ll find many more uses for them besides this soup recipe, so be sure to order a few extra bags.
Every time I make this soup I will remember our wonderful time in Siena and lunch of ribollita.
Ribollita – Hearty Tuscan Vegetable Soup
- ½ pound (227 grams) dried cannellini beans (soak the night before) or 3 cups of canned beans, rinsed and drained
- 3 tablespoons olive oil plus extra for serving if desired
- 4 ounces (113 grams) pancetta, diced small
- 2 cups (300 grams) diced onion (1 jumbo or 2 medium)
- 3-4 large cloves of fresh garlic, minced
- 1 cup diced carrots (about 3-4 medium)
- 1 cup diced celery (about 3-4 stalks)
- 1 cup diced fennel ( 1 medium)
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1 28-ounce can (794 grams) petite diced tomatoes
- 4 cups chopped kale (most of a head, ribs cut out, then chopped)
- ½ cup fresh chopped basil leaves
- 4 cups (1 liter) chicken broth, preferably homemade
- 2 cups sourdough bread cubes, crusts removed
- ½ cup or more grated Parmesan cheese
- To soak the beans overnight: In a large bowl, cover the Cannellini beans with cold water to cover by several inches. Cover with plastic film and refrigerate overnight. If you’ve forgotten to soak the beans overnight, use this quick soak method. Rinse the beans in cold water, place them in a large pot and cover with cold water by about 3″. Bring the beans to a strong simmer, cover and remove from the heat. Allow beans to sit for an hour or two. The beans are ready to use as if they were soaked.
- Drain the beans and place them in a large pot with 8 cups ( 2 liters) of water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered for 45-60 minutes. Add 1 teaspoon salt and continue simmering until beans are tender, about 15 minutes longer. Set the beans aside in their liquid to cool.
- Meanwhile, in a large pot over medium heat, cook the pancetta until crisp. Drain on paper towels and set aside. Add the oil to the pot and over medium-low heat cook onions until they are soft and translucent. Add garlic and cook 1 minute. Add the drained pancetta, carrots, celery, fennel, salt, black and red pepper. Cook until vegetables are tender, about 7-10 minutes. Add tomatoes and reserved juice, kale, and basil and simmer another 7-10 minutes.
- Drain the cooled beans, reserving the liquid. Puree half of the beans with a little of the liquid in a blender. Add bean puree to the pot with the vegetables, then add the remaining whole beans. Discard the remaining bean liquid. (in a hurry, skip the puree and just add the beans).
- Add chicken broth to the pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for about 20 minutes. Add bread cubes and simmer another 10 minutes. Taste for seasoning and serve, sprinkled with Parmesan cheese. Drizzle with a little more olive oil or extra chopped basil if desired.
This soup is even better the next day. I like it very thick as I had it in Italy. If you want more brothy soup you can add a little more chicken broth.
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